2018 - Third International Year of the Reef

Aerial view of Great Barrier Reef2018 could be a key turning point in efforts to protect marine biodiversity. The International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) has announced that 2018 will be the third International Year of the Reef. It will be an opportunity to rediscover coral, the services it provides to mankind and the need to protect it.

What is coral?

Close up on coral polypsDespite their appearance, corals are creatures. They belong to the same group as sea anemones and gorgonians, which is characterised by a primitive body featuring a single orifice with stinging tentacles: Cnidaria. Corals are very ancient creatures which emerged in the Precambrian period, 900 million years ago. They live in colonies of individuals known as polyps. There are about 1,400 species of corals in the world.

Corals live in symbiosis with an alga called zooxanthella. The nitrogenous and phosphoric waste released by polyps provide minerals to algae, and through photosynthesis, algae produce nutrients which are used by corals. Zooxanthellae give corals their brilliant colours. Most corals live in warm waters, close to the surface, but there are also cold-water corals which grow along continental margins, at depths ranging from a few hundred metres to over a thousand metres!

Coral reefs

Sea turtle in Raja Ampat (Indonesia)Coral reefs are made up of all corals and organisms which share the same ecosystem. Coral reefs can be found in over 100 countries, in tropical seas. Taken together, the world’s coral reefs cover an area equivalent to that of Italy (approximately 300,000 km2. Although this only represents 0.2% of the oceans, coral reefs are home to 30% of the world’s biodiversity. Thanks to its overseas territories, 10% of coral reefs are owned by France. They are located in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans. So France has an important role to play in their protection.



The services that corals provide to mankind

Artisanal fishermen The services provided by coral reefs are worth EUR 1.3 billion per year. Corals provide food and shelter for hundreds of thousands of species, several million of which are still unknown, and act as a nursery for fish in the open sea. They form part of the marine ecosystems that produce the most living biomass. So they are an important source of food for many coastal populations. Their beauty attracts tourists and scuba diving enthusiasts. 500 million people make a living directly from coral reefs through fishing and tourism. This reservoir of biodiversity could yield new medicines. Many organisms which live in reefs produce genes and powerful substances whose effects on arthritis, cancer and other illnesses are being studied.These reefs also protect coasts from waves and marine erosion by absorbing up to 97% of the force of waves.

Ecosystems under threat

Bleached coral reef in Okinawa in 2016Corals are very vulnerable to rises in water temperatures, pollution and damage caused by human activities. According to the ICRI, 19% of coral reefs are dead or severely damaged and over 60% are threatened. Over the past few decades, we have seen an increase in mass bleaching events affecting reefs. Corals are also threatened by ocean acidification, which weakens their skeletons.

However, progress has been made in efforts to protect them. Marine Protected Areas have been created (e.g. in the USA and Kiribati). New propagation methods can be used to preserve threatened reefs. At local level, organisations are working to save their reefs. By doing this, mankind can continue to benefit from the countless services that corals provide to it and marvel at their beauty.

Coral at Nausicaa

Since 2012, Nausicaa has exhibited corals through illustrations, videos and tanks. You can learn about what coral is, its life, the complexity of the reef environment in which thousands of species live, and the importance of reefs for mankind. The pools and tanks at Nausicaa contain about fifty coral species. The propagation and breeding methods that have been developed in various regions of the world are explained at Nausicaa through accounts given by actors who have adopted these techniques in the Maldives (Reefscapers association). Structures with coral cuttings are displayed.

To help preserve corals in their natural environment, and due to the many significant threats faced by reefs, Nausicaa has created its own nursery. About 90% of the coral species on display in Nausicaa’s tanks were bred on site. The other 10% are mostly what is known as solitary corals. Polyps do not form colonies, so it is difficult to multiply them.



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